Night buses are vehicles designed to give one something this is almost,but not quite, entirely unlike a good night’s sleep. I hadn’t been in a night bus before, so didn’t know what to expect. What i found was three rows of double decker beds, built for people of a height about 5 inches shorter than I. Legs had to be squeezed into tiny plastic boxes below the bed in front. The lack of leg room and bed space, no light for reading, and a very poorly-made toilet in the back made for one of my worst, and longest, nights travel so far. I later learned that most travellers eat Valium tablets by the handful before they get on board.
So, when I arrived in Huế (pronounced as if Johnathon Ross was saying “hurray”), around 9am, I wasn’t the happiest of bunnies. Finding the bed I had booked the previous night wasn’t ready didn’t help my mood too much. To pass the time, I took a quick jaunt around the city, walking to the old citadel and back (an imposing 200 year old fortress and palace).
Getting back after my walk in the bright sunshine, I felt a lot better and more sociable. I had a breakfast of instant noodles with some guys on my night bus (2 Dutch brothers called Erik and Arjen, and 2 English guys both called Archie). I cracked a stupid travel joke in front of all of them. How long is the bus to Hoi An? Oh 4 hours? No, I meant in meters). I probably shouldn’t have made such a terrible joke in retrospect, as I would end up seeing and traveling with all four for the next few weeks. Didn’t give myself the best first impression.
Ignoring their better instincts, the Archies invited me with them to go see the Citadel. On the way, we saw the giant Flagtower of Imperial City Hu?, and a collection of old American guns and vehicles from the war. We paid an excessive amount of money to enter the Citadel walls (any money would have been excessive). It was rubbish inside. Just a large number of semi dilapidated, identical buildings with no explanations as to what was actually what. The best sight I saw was 12 exhausted looking women practicing a traditional tea dance -wtih plastic cups glued to plastic trays – being yelled at by a stressed and sweaty middle aged man.
Later on in the day we relaxed on the balcony, reading and writing journals. This was a calm before the storm of the night to come. It started, and night’s should never start like this, with shots of chile vodka so strong I throw up almost instantly. I was a little naive here. When 4 or 5 grinning Enlighmen come up to you asking if you want a free shot, you should probably be more than a little weary. I survived the feeling of my heart exploding within my chest,and the guffawing laughter of my compatriots, and was prepared for the night to come.
We went to a club famous for handing out free crisps (not the best reputation, but it seemed to draw the punters in). Unfortunately, they were chili flavoured which I really wasn’t in the mood for. Anyway, the music and dancing was good, and the night ended in the usual vague and uncertain way good nights do.
I had stupidly booked a coach tour the day before of the Demilitarized Zone (the strip of land between north and south Vietnam during the war), which started at the most spiteful time of day of 6am. It took a lot of poking by the Archies (who were also going) to wake me from my comatose state. They managed somehow, and I found myself half an hour later nursing my hangover with a black coffee in the restaurant they took us before we were to start. I would have much preferred an extra half hour in bed.
The tour started with a trip to a series of tunnels that local Vietnamese villagers used to hide from falling bombs. Carved from solid rock, they were meagre in scale and sight. Families of 5 had to crowd in a space smaller than a bathtub. The ceilings were often only a few feet off the ground, and the walls never any wider.
Only a short 3 hour coach ride later, we were at our next stop – a small museum surrounded by a number of tanks, helicopters and guns from the war. We were only there for half an hour or so, before being shepherded on to our next destinations on the DMZ tour – a big suspension bridge with apparently no connection to the war era, and a local person’s house – which apparently made a good photo opportunity. Overall, I think we spent over 5 hours on that coach – less than the time we spent at the things we were supposed to be touring.
Getting back to the hostel a little disappointed, I was ready to drown my sorrows with any nearby spirit that didn’t contain chili. Unfortunately, I had a bad reaction to my malaria medication, and had to make do with a nauseating night’s sleep up in my dorm. From the noises emanating from downstairs at the bar, it sounds like the rest of the hostel had a good night.Bit of an anticlimactic end to my stay in Huế. Hopefully my time in Ha Noi – my next desitination – would be better.